HUD Announces First-Ever Same-Sex Housing Discrimination Study
HUD recently released the nation’s first-ever national study examining housing discrimination against same-sex couples in the private rental market. The study, An Estimate of Housing Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples, measures the treatment same-sex couples receive from rental agents when inquiring about apartments advertised online, as compared to how otherwise similar heterosexual couples are treated.
The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate in rental, sales, and lending on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and familial status. Although it does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes, 20 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 150 cities, towns, and counties across the nation have laws that specifically prohibit discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
Recently, HUD issued new guidance that treats discrimination based on gender nonconformity or sex stereotyping as sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, and instructs HUD staff to inform individuals filing complaints about state and local agencies that have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws. In addition, on Feb. 3, 2012, HUD published a final rule, “Equal Access to Housing in HUD Programs Regardless of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity,” which requires HUD-funded and HUD-insured housing providers and FHA-approved lenders to provide equal access without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status.
According to HUD’s study, same-sex couples experience unequal treatment more often than heterosexual couples when responding to Internet ads for rental units, and findings show that gay male couples experience more discrimination than lesbian couples. HUD’s study is based on nearly 7,000 email tests conducted in 50 metropolitan markets across the country between June and October of 2011. For each paired test, two emails were sent to the housing provider regarding the unit advertised online. The only difference between the emails was whether the couple was same-sex or heterosexual. Unfavorable treatment was measured by whether the tester was told the unit was available, asked to contact the landlord, invited to the see the apartment, or received any response at all.
Key findings of the study showed that:
- Same-sex couples experience discrimination in the online rental housing market, relative to heterosexual couples.
- Adverse treatment is found primarily in the form of same-sex couples receiving fewer responses to the email inquiry than heterosexual couples.
- States with legislative protections show slightly more adverse treatment for gays and lesbians than in states without protections.
- Adverse treatment of same-sex couples is present in every metropolitan area where tests were conducted, but no clear-cut pattern exists in the magnitude of adverse treatment by metropolitan size.